By Kieran Loughney
Kenny always called out his mom for her support of Donald Trump when the reality television star first ran for president. Their differing political views fueled plenty of arguments. But as Kenny, born male, transitioned to female those opposing views became less of an issue. Both he and his mother (whose actual names have been changed for this article) would see themselves and their relationship change.
I first met 16-year-old Kenny when driving him to transgender counseling sessions in my role as a child welfare worker. He had been living with his father, a successful businessman but also an alcoholic, who the court determined to be unfit as a parent. Kenny’s mother, Julie, a dark-haired stylishly-dressed woman, had recently completed a rehabilitation program for her own addiction and was granted sole custody of Kenny.
Julie joined us on trips to Kenny’s appointments with his endocrinologist; and on those drives, as the Trump campaign turned up the rhetoric, mother and son disagreements intensified. The tension between them concerned me. “Mom, those jerks don’t care about people like me,” Kenny would complain. She’d reply, “That’s not why I support them. I want closed borders and lower taxes. The Democrats just want to spend money.”
On one trip to his counseling session, Kenny mentioned that nearly a year before we met he had rescued a bird. “I used to walk in the woods behind my dad’s house to get away from him for a while. I spotted an injured raven flopping around on the ground—he couldn’t fly and he looked scared. I wrapped him up in my hoodie and sneaked him into the basement. I Googled ‘how to care for an injured bird’ and secretly nursed him back to health. I named him Edgar.” I interrupted, “Like Poe.” Kenny, eyes misting behind his raven black bangs, said, “Ain’t gonna lie, I cried when I took him outside a few weeks later and watched him fly away.”
With election day approaching, the presidential race heated up; and in the media and elsewhere, polarization became rampant. Kenny’s transition to female continued. Now identifying as Jenny, she and her mom, surprisingly, seemed more at ease with each other. Their bond as mother and child had eclipsed their political stances. Jenny told me privately, “I hate that my mom’s voting Republican, but I realize that I never could have gotten this far without her. She was able to accept my being different. I have to accept that she’s different, too.” In a time when the world seemed so divided, I marveled at how much trust and acceptance these two people had found with each other. In that moment I wondered if everyone else in the world could ever become that open-hearted.
The last time I transported them to the endocrinologist, Jenny and her mom arranged to meet me at an ice cream shop before the trip home. They barely noticed me as I pulled up in front of the store. Sitting hand in hand on a bench eating ice cream cones, they gazed at a bird flying high overhead. I like to think it was a dove.